England: Bulgaria criticises plan to leave pitch over racist abuse

Tammy Abraham at England training

Tammy Abraham says England are prepared to walk off the pitch if they are targeted by racist abuse in their Euro 2020 qualifiers this week

England players’ plan to leave the pitch if they are racially abused during Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia has been called “offensive” by Bulgaria’s Football Union.

The game will be played in a partially closed stadium following Bulgaria fans’ racist behaviour at games in June.

In a letter to European football’s governing body Uefa, BFU president Borislav Mihaylov called England’s plans “the unjust branding of local spectators as people inclined to discriminatory behaviour”.

England forward Tammy Abraham said on Wednesday that the players are prepared to “all come off the pitch together” if they are “not happy”.

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Bulgaria supporters were found guilty of racist behaviour against Kosovo and the Czech Republic in their Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Uefa ordered that 5,000 of the 46,340 seats at the Vasil Levski stadium in Sofia be blocked off for the game with England and 3,000 against the Czech Republic next month.

Mihaylov wrote: “The Bulgarian public has in no way committed any recent infringements that deserve it to be stereotyped as ‘racist’ or ‘hostile’.

“I am sure you will agree that these accusations are not only unjust but are continuous attempts to disrupt the atmosphere before a very much anticipated game of football.

“We are aware of the recent problems with racist behaviour in all tiers of English club football and with England’s ongoing battle with hooliganism.

“Although we sincerely applaud the FA’s initiative for the English fans to report trouble within the visiting crowd, we are extremely shocked at all efforts to involve and even mark out the Bulgarian spectators as potential troublemakers.”

England manager Gareth Southgate said last month that he would talk to his players before the Bulgaria game.

Mihaylov added: “Following the communication with Greg Clarke (FA chairman) I was informed that Mr Southgate’s concerns were mainly due to the fact that Bulgaria received a Uefa sanction for racist chants in 2011.

“Even though I view these comments as disregarding of all the work that the BFU has done over these eight years, I truly believed that our federation’s immediate reaction would result in a more constructive handling of public and media matters in the eve of the game in Sofia.”

Uefa’s three-step protocol for racial abuse ends with the officials abandoning a match if announcements inside a stadium do not stop the problem.

In August, Bulgarian club sides PFC Levski Sofia and PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv were punished by Uefa for racism during Europa League games.